Articles in this rubric reflect the opinion of the author.- Ed.
The earthquake disaster that hit northwestern Turkey near the Gulf of Izmit on August 17, 1999, stands out from among calamities of this kind at least in two respects. First, in the scale of damage done to the country's economy and in the appalling toll of human lives involved, and, second, in the seismic situation that precipitated the disaster and its consequences. While sufficient data are available on the first count, the scientific aspects of the seismology involved and prospects for the future remain relatively obscure.
Earthquakes of the intensity of 9 points (on the Richter Scale) and magnitude about 7.5 are nothing exceptional in Turkey and in the European-Asiatic sector of what we call the Alpine seismic belt. Scores of quakes have been recorded there during this century. But even then the disaster of August 17, 1999 stands out as something uncommon which can only be compared with calamities like the Messina quake of 1908, the Ashkhabad quake of 1948 and the Spitak disaster of 1988. As for Turkey itself, the scale of the tragedy has been the greatest for more than a century. The death toll exceeded 18 thousand, 30-35 thousand people were buried under the rubble, 23 thousand were injured and 500 thousand people left homeless. The material damage, estimated at 25 to 40 billion dollars, stands out from the list of similar natural disasters in the recent history of Europe and the Near East. The reasons for the losses on this scale are pretty obvious. The disaster struck a large and densely populated area with a developed infrastructure and major industries. And the standards of housing construction by and large have proved to be simply inadequate. There had been no early warnings of the impending doom which left the people and the authorities totally unprepared, to say nothing of the fact that the quake struck at night when people are usually in their beds.
FROM THE GLOOM OF AGES
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